‘Meaning in Frailty’ research to aid aged care

3 JULY 2020

‘Meaning in Frailty’ research to aid aged care

New Charles Sturt University research will inform policy and practice for the care of frail older people.

  • Charles Sturt research examines the lived experience of frailty, highlighting the spiritual dimension
  • Frailty is a physical and psychosocial condition affecting the whole human being in relation to the wellbeing of self and others
  • The study’s findings will help aged care practitioners to better understand what this final life journey is like from the care-receivers’ viewpoints

The Charles Sturt research report ‘Finding meaning in the lived experience of frailty’ examined the experiences of 25 frail older people with an average age of 83 years.

The research was led by Reverend Professor Elizabeth MacKinlay, the Colloquium for Ageing Perspectives and Spirituality (CAPS) in the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, and the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology, at Charles Sturt University.

Professor MacKinlay emphasised that new knowledge on the experience of frailty is important to guide clinical practice for the multidisciplinary teams who provide services and care for frail older adults, especially under the new Quality Aged Care Guidelines, which came into effect on 1 July 2019.

“While a great deal of research has been conducted into frailty over the last couple of decades, it has focused on biomedical and, to a smaller extent, on psychosocial aspects of frailty,” Professor MacKinlay said.

“In recent decades interest in frailty as a condition of later life has increased greatly, with questions continuing to be debated as to whether this is a separate entity of ageing and also to its relationship to disability and other chronic illnesses.

“An alternative view of ageing is the construct of inner strength as important to mental health and wellbeing, as identified in recent Scandinavian literature in nursing.”

Professor MacKinlay said adding to the debate on frailty was a paper in the Lancet journal, which considered implications for clinical practice and public health of frailty, and highlighted frailty as a global health burden.

“However, frailty is not only a physical and psychosocial concern, but is a condition affecting the whole human being in relation to the wellbeing of self and others,” Professor MacKinlay said.

“There remains a serious lack of study into the spiritual and emotional aspects of frailty to this time, and this project presents a perspective of the lived experience of frailty, highlighting the spiritual dimension.”

Professor MacKinlay explained that the research examined individuals’ stories because story is central to human being and meaning, as it is through story that we connect with each other, and it is an essential component of our identity.

“Frail older people are at a crucial stage of their life journey; making sense of this journey becomes an important spiritual task,” she said.

“How older people connect with their stories, and how stories connect them with loved ones and those who care for them will make real differences in the quality of lives for these frail people.

“Increasing the health literacy for older people in prevention of frailty may do much to increase the quality of life for older people, and to reduce the number of years experienced in frailty.

“Staff training in this regard for the care of frail older people needs to be set up throughout the aged care industry.

“However, this research is only a beginning to further study of this important area, especially as issues of quality of life and the process of dying and older people and issues of person-assisted suicide are on the public agenda.”


Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Reverend Professor Elizabeth MacKinlay contact Bruce Andrews at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0418 669 362 or via news@csu.edu.au

The research team was Reverend Professor Elizabeth MacKinlay, AM, Dr Richard Burns (ANU), Ms Sally Mordike, and staff of Catholic HealthCare Ltd.

The project was funded by a grant from the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology (PaCT) at Charles Sturt University, and was a project of the Colloquium for Ageing Perspectives and Spirituality (CAPS), in the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture (ACC&C) at Charles Sturt University.

Presentations about the research have been delivered already at several conferences in Australia:

A half-day presentation to Catholic HealthCare on Wednesday 2 October 2019 in Sydney;

The 8th International Conference on Ageing and Spirituality in October 2019 in Canberra;

The national Australian Association of Gerontology (AAG) conference November 2019 in Sydney;

A full day seminar was presented in Brisbane in March 2020; with further presentations planned in Sydney in June (cancelled due to COVID-19), and in Perth later in 2020.



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